In 1823, at a small school in western Vermont, Frances Alsop Henshaw, the 14-year-old daughter of a prosperous merchant, produced a remarkable cartographic and textual artifact.
Henshaw’s “Book of Penmanship Executed at the Middlebury Female Academy” is a slim volume, later bound in marble boards, containing -- in addition to the expected, set copy-texts of a practice-book -- a series of hand-drawn, delicately-colored maps of our nineteen United States, each one paired with a geometrically-constructed and embellished prose passage selected from the geography books available to a schoolgirl in the new American republic.
Henshaw’s maps and texts alike are interpretive re-presentations of the body of geodetic and descriptive literature from which she read geography. Formally, many of the textual passages that accompany her maps are designed within a framework of aesthetically-inflected cardinal coordinates, representing (either conceptually or in their spatial contours) the states they describe, and positioning political and natural boundaries in cartographically appropriate margins of the page.
The book, clearly treasured, travelled west with Henshaw to Illinois, and later to Missouri, after her marriage to the clergyman and historian Truman Marcellus Post in 1835. It is dated “April 29, 1823,” and bears an 1872 inscription to their eldest son, T. A. Post.
Document Item Type Metadata
Frances A. Henshaw's
April 29, 1823
presented to her son T. A. Post --
Feb 4th 1872